I am one of the “bookish introverts who value getting lost in the stacks and discovering new (and old) worlds” that Wallace Baine so crudely dismissed in his recent glowing paean to the new Capitola Branch Library building (below).
I am people, too, and I don’t find this building “people-oriented” at all. To me, it’s crude, vapid, sterile, culturally disconnected from the community, environmentally wasteful (those overly tall, empty ceiling spaces), and most of all, inadequately supplied with books.
Libraries, and buildings in general, have a place in the history and culture of a community. To destroy our historic buildings and replace them with architects’ “look at me” show pieces ignores cultural values, denies historical continuity, and replaces meaningful community utility and function with “Wow Factor” entertainment and distraction.
Most all of the proposed architectural excess in Santa Cruz these days is ugly, boxy, Brutalist, and oppressive, providing only rudimentary human comfort to its proposed inhabitants. Sweeping empty interior spaces, boxy, undecorated exteriors, and sterile walls and furnishings are not welcoming to a public seeking warmth, security and comfort.
“Buildings shouldn’t hate you. They probably shouldn’t be weird-looking and they shouldn’t grate on the eyeballs. They should be comforting and attractive, because we have to live in them.”
I go to libraries to read and learn, from the books on the shelves and the buildings that contain them. Books and paper are the only archival materials we have to transmit our culture to our children, and to preserve them for future generations. We need adequate places to conserve our written heritage and make it readily available to all.
What do our children learn when we tear down community history and culture and replace it with meaningless edifices disguised as art?
“The tipi is much better to live in; always clean, warm in winter, cool in summer; easy to move. The white man builds big house, cost much money, like big cage, shut out sun, can never move; always sick. Indians and animals know better how to live than white man … If the Great Spirit wanted men to stay in one place he would make the world stand still; but he made it to always change, so birds and animals can move and always have green grass and ripe berries, sunlight to work and play, and night to sleep; summer for flowers to bloom, and winter for them to sleep; always changing; everything for good; nothing for nothing.”
––– Flying Hawk, Oglala Sioux, 1852 – 1931
I came on this quote yesterday, when I opened the book Touch the Earth, A Self Portrait of Indian Existence, compiled by T. C. McLuhan. It occurred to me immediately that Flying Hawk had recognized the core of the rift between western civilization and the natural world, some ninety years ago.
To understand the indigenous world view represented in this quote, one has to understand that the “Great Spirit” reference is a mistranslation of Native America culture. The translators were white men steeped in Christian religion, embodied in an anthropomorphic creator they called God. They interpreted the Lakota “wakan tanka” to refer to a singular god or creator, when, in fact, the phrase means great spirit or great mystery.
Among the Yupik and Inuit people of Alaska, the word Innua refers to the spirit that flows through all things, including humans, a spirit that is ever watchful, ever connected between humans and animals. This gave every thing and every event a depth of meaning in the lives of the indigenous peoples living close within the natural world.
This connection was lost in western civilization when organized religion displaced local spiritual cultures, substituting a centralized authoritarian religion for the ancient decentralized, personal relationship among humans and the local natural world.
Today we live in centralized authoritarian societies in which the dominant religious world view is embodied in all of our cultural organizations, centralized and authoritarian, from national governments, to local governments, to businesses and even families. Morality, ethics and meaning are seen to come from the top down, not from the grass roots up. We have few cultural connections between the human world and the natural world, and those that exist, historically and immediately, are swept away in the overweening cultural energy of our modern consumerist societies.
The result, of course, is destruction of the natural world, reduction of wilderness, loss of the small remaining bits of untrammeled biodiversity that once were predominant. The human species has indeed subdued the Earth.
Of course, “That which cannot go on forever, stops,” is a truism that offers no hope or relief. Those of us who remain aware live in Leopold’s “world of wounds,” doing whatever we can to at least slow the tide of destruction, speak for those who have no voice in human affairs, and live as simply as possible in a culture that demands constant, unrelenting material complexity.
I used to write about this extensively, frequently and with great enthusiasm. I haven’t written much lately, feeling that I’ve said it all before, that we have all said it all before, and what’s the use of saying it yet again.
But then I realize there are people born every year, growing up in this mad, mad world, who haven’t yet heard these words, experienced these fundamental realities, thought these critically important thoughts handed down to us through time. If nothing else, those of us who know are a repository of information critical to the well-being of all life in the biosphere, and it is our solemn duty to share it whenever and wherever possible.
So this is my whenever and wherever, here in the electronic ether that I oppose but I must use, to reach those minds still receptive to these ideas.
Perhaps this modern world does indeed bear the seeds of its own destruction and this is my garden.
These are the words of Joe Hill, sent to Big Bill Haywood, both of them premier political organizers during the heyday of the IWW and violent oppression of workers and citizens by local and national governments. Our struggles pale in comparison to those of over a century ago.
Today, centralized authoritarian government is facing an enormous challenge, not so much from the pandemic, homelessness and recession (as if that were not enough!), but primarily from the change in information access and distribution accompanying the digital revolution. Central authorities have lost control of the information flow to and from the public. In response, they have become more secretive, more elitist, more inclined to develop projects behind closed doors and then propagandize the public to accept their pre-ordained decisions. We see this in all major projects in the cities and county, where the decision making process has been sequestered among government officials and “stakeholders,” a corporate term for those who stand to profit from proposed projects. The public is restricted to providing “input,” in the form of one or two minute statements to the body that has already made up their minds, but are forced to listen to the public in the name of “democracy.”
Today’s editorial by Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers is a perfect example of what we face. Mayor Meyers condescendingly explains to the masses the wonderful ways Santa Cruz City government is planning “to help our community get back on its feet and work toward the future.” Whose future? Not the people’s future, the future of City government.
Mayor Meyers explains to the little people “These sound like a lot of boring government plans but actually, these plans chart a course for the city, …” That being city government, staff and those stakeholders in the wings waiting for their economic handouts.
If we are to carve out a meaningful place in the course of local government and our own future, we must do three things: organize, organize, organize. The Santa Cruz activist community is broad and thin, sectarian and marginalized. Our voice is weak and often contradictory, split among many worthy causes and concerns. We work to exhaustion, lose, then pick ourselves up and move to the next surprise presentation by local government and industry. We are always behind the curve, reactive rather than proactive.
We need to make ourselves aware of what government is planning for us, by becoming intimately involved in the course of government decision making. My Santa Cruz Online publication details every government and non-governmental meeting in county and city government, including all commissions, committees and advisory bodies, special fire protection and water districts, and other non-governmental entities that attend to local government’s business.
We need to form a loose coalition of activist organizations, not as “One ring to rule them all …” but as a means of communication, cooperation and federation, to bring our scattered activities into focus on timely, pertinent campaigns. We have the tools to meld our efforts, we have the links, the web pages, the email distribution lists, all separate and cloistered now, despite their overlapping contents.
I’ll be writing more on this as we move along, with more suggestions on how to organize our good work and get involved in local government. Meanwhile, go to Santa Cruz Online and sign up to receive a weekly review of upcoming government and non-government meetings in the county for the coming week.
We’ve no time and energy to spend on past mistakes and failures. Organize now!
Over the past few years, we’ve followed Santa Cruz County plans to build affordable housing, a health clinic and a dental clinic on a largely undeveloped site at 1500 Capitola Road in Live Oak.
Recently we’ve become aware of significant soil and ground water pollution of the site, resulting from discharges of dry cleaning fluid, tetrachloroethylene (PCE), from an historic dry cleaning business at the neighboring 1600 Capitola Road building, now housing a self-service laundromat.
The Fairway Dry Cleaning & Laundry operated from 1964 to at least 1970, just east of the Capitola Road project. In 1970, the facility was sold and the dry cleaning service was discontinued.
Although potential pollution of soils and groundwater from dry cleaning facilities has been well known for decades, the historical presence of the dry cleaning business at 1600 Capitola Road was forgotten. A May 31, 2002 report from the County Health Services Agency to the Board of Supervisors recognized ten dry cleaning facilities in the County as potential sources of PCE contamination, but did not include the 1600 Capitola Road site.
The County Redevelopment Agency purchased the four lots making up the current Capitola Road Project from 1994 to 1997. A 1994 environmental study of 1438 Capitola Road was restricted to hydrocarbon contamination from a previous business. No investigation was conducted on other lots in the area.
PCE contamination was first identified from 2008 to 2012 in a water monitoring well at the 1600 Capitola Road lot, as part of the remediation study for the former Live Oak Texaco station across the street. In its 2012 report, A+ Environmental Solutions did not identify the source of the PCE, noting that “based on the groundwater flow direction and shape of the plume, it is likely originating from a source area southwest of the subject site, across Capitola Avenue.”
In 2017, the County issued an RFQ for development of the Capitola Road Site, and approved an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with MidPen Housing.
In January 2020, Remediation Risk Management, Inc. (RRM) reported to MidPen Housing that the 1600 Capitola Road Laundromat had operated as a dry cleaner in the 1960s and 1970s.
In February 2020, Weber, Hayes & Associates (WHA) reported to the State Regional Water Quality Control Board that elevated concentrations of the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene (PCE) had been detected by RRM in two shallow soil vapor samples collected along the eastern property line of the Capitola Road Project. RRM subsequently reported these findings to MidPen Housing.
In September 2020, WHA reported to the County Economic Development Coordinator that “the source of the solvent contamination is from the adjoining property to the east where a dry cleaning business formerly operated (1600 Capitola Road)”.
In a November 11, 2020 Board of Supervisors meeting, PCE contamination of the Capitola Road Project site was first revealed to the public in a Consent Agenda item. The Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with MidPen Housing was amended to reduce the purchase price of the property, allowing MidPen to add passive and active measures to reduce the accumulation of PCE vapors in the three buildings proposed for the project.
In addition to the overwhelming irony of proposing a health clinic and affordable housing project on a site contaminated by carcinogenic chemicals, several questions come immediately to mind:
Would the County Redevelopment Agency have purchased the property in 1994 if they had known of the PCE contamination?
Would MidPen Housing have signed the original agreement for the project if they had known of the PCE contamination?
Why was the public not informed of the 50 year-old pollution of the site until it was slipped into the Board of Supervisors meeting as a Consent Agenda item in November, 2020?
Will potential affordable housing residents and health clinic workers be informed of the PCE contamination before occupying the properties?
Are the people who lived in the two houses over the past 50 years on top of the highest PCE concentration know to be alive and healthy?
Are there any records of health abnormalities in people or their pets and livestock in the neighborhood surrounding the 1600 Capitola Road site.
While the project partners will be protecting the interior of the buildings with vapor barriers under their foundations and active depressurization technology to keep PCE vapors from accumulating in the foundations, PCE and its vapors will remain in the soil and the groundwater beneath the buildings and the unprotected land between the buildings.
Since PCE is heavier than water, it sinks to the bottom of the groundwater table until it reaches impermeable clay. Since the clay layer is not level, and slopes to the southeast, the PCE will continue to migrate downslope, as it has for the past 50 years. PCE is a man-made “forever” chemical, meaning it will be in the ground water, moving inexorably to Leona Creek, Schwann Lagoon and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Complacent and uninformed humans may be content to live and work in the vicinity of vapors from man-made toxic chemicals, but the living soil and waters, with all of the plant and animals species who live here, have no choice. The bioshere on which all life depends is gradually becoming saturated with chemicals with which no species have evolved, including Homo sapiens.
Is it any wonder that more and more animal and plant species are diminishing and heading toward extinction?
Is it any wonder that 2.5 million humans have recently died from exposure to a virus, due in large part to “co-morbidity” (other health threatening diseases and conditions) and generally degraded immune systems?
A viable, sustainable human future will, of necessity, be a world in which humans cooperate with natural biospheric processes, not work against them.
A viable, sustainable human future will, of necessity, be a future in which humans do not consume natural resources faster than they are naturally replenished, and do not produce wastes faster than they can be naturally dispersed and assimilated.
A viable, sustainable human future will have no more humans than can be sustained through natural biospheric processes. My guess is about 2 billion humans would be the optimum maximum global population level to allow recovery and continued viability of the biosphere.
A viable, sustainable human future will have a reduced energy demand per capita, produced locally, and used at the site of production. Energy production will be by life-cycle renewable, passive sources. Heating and cooling of homes and businesses, where necessary, with be limited to local resources and locally manufactured and maintained technologies.
A viable, sustainable human future will require far less human transportation. Humans will work where they live, live where they work. Local transportation will be on foot and by human powered vehicles. Regional transportation will be by solar charged electric vehicles and sail craft; long distance transportation, where necessary, will be by solar-charged electric vehicles and sail craft.
A viable, sustainable human future will have a steady state economy, based on local production for local consumption, with limited trade for materials not available locally. Local population and economic growth will be limited by local resource availability. Local food production will require less energy, less irrigation and will be distributed locally through farmers markets and cooperatives.
We’re at the cusp of historic change in the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco and north of Santa Cruz. For over a century two historic trends have merged to create the CZU August Lightning fires, destroying many homes and properties.
For the past one hundred years, residents of the Bay Area and elsewhere have built summer homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, there to enjoy cool temperatures and vast panoramic vistas. Over the years, many of those summer cabins have been upgraded to year round residences, most of them on narrow winding roads through the forest, subject to washouts, landslides, and fire.
Over the same period, fire suppression, largely to protect the increasing number of homes, has increased fuel loads in the forest, as small, patchy fires that have historically removed undergrowth and grasses have been curtailed and largely eliminated.
The August 15 thunderstorm set hundreds of small fires throughout the area, that caught hold in the abundant fuels accumulated over decades. They rapidly merged into the large fire area now being brought under control by 1600+ firefighters and their large and complex agency administrations.
We’ve come to this point over a century of thoughtless, unplanned growth and development, spreading fragile homes and businesses into wild areas without considering the natural processes at work in the non-human world. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and at this point a lesson not to be ignored.
Nevertheless, thoughts and plans are turning to “repopulation,” allowing home and business owners to return to assess the damage to their properties, including in many cases complete loss. Local government officials are already reassuring property owners that assistance for rebuilding will be readily available and the skids will be amply greased to ease the permitting process.
This is the point where a pause and a good rethink would be in order, before the rush to return to the status quo. Is it smart government policy to encourage property owners to rebuild their destroyed buildings in areas that will remain fire prone and would require extensive clearing, road building and fire protection into the future?
Isn’t this a good opportunity to reassess the effects of historic human population growth and infrastructure development in wild lands?
Isn’t now the perfect time to look to the future and consider the human world that we have built and the effects the way we live have on the natural world that surrounds us and on which we ultimately depend?
Wouldn’t it be better, for all life, for humans to live cooperatively, humbly and respectfully with natural processes, such as drought, precipitation, temperature… and fire, that govern the non-human world, and increasingly, as we have recently learned, the human world as well?
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Here at Bwthyn Lleuad y Bae, we’re ten miles from the nearest flames, the Shingle fire at the southeast corner of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.
This fire area started last weekend with a rollicking thunderstorm that rolled through the forest a week ago, starting multiple fires that have coalesced into the monster fire zone depicted above. It’s not all burning at the moment of course, mostly around the edges indicated by the dark red dots.
Firefighters have been able to slow the advance of the fire considerably over the past couple of days, due to light winds blowing in the right direction, lower temperatures and higher humidity. That situation may change tonight, or it may not, with a storm front coming through the area, which may, or may not, bring more lighting strikes in the forest, or what’s left of it, this evening.
County government officials are already starting to reassure homeowners whose homes have burned down that permitting regulations will be eased to allow them to rebuild their homes in place.
This seems unwise to me. If anything, permitting to build human habitations within forests that have evolved with fire and depend on fire for their ecosystem health should be more stringent and not less. People should be discouraged from building their homes and business in areas prone to fire, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes and hurricanes.
Yet, as we see every year, the economic costs of “natural disasters” increase, as more and more people choose to live in these areas unsuited to fragile human development.
Just as we wisely limit development in floodplains, in some communities, we should also designate fire zones, earthquake zones, volcanic zones, hurricane and tornado alleys as areas not suitable for human habitation.
I learned this 50 years ago in introductory Earth Science classes at a small teacher’s college in western Nebraska. It’s not rocket psychiatry, just simple common sense.
But then, common sense is a rare commodity in the human species, especially in these days of electronic distancing from the natural world, widespread ignorance of the science of ecology, and general digital distraction from the world as it is.
Perhaps the coalescence of virus pandemic, historic forest fires, and an incomprehensibly idiotic buffoon running for re-election as President of these United States will bring humans in this most profligate of nations to pause and reconsider this poorly considered path into an uncertain future.
We’ll survive the fire this time, and the pandemic and even Donald Trump. But what about the next time, and the next and the next? Why do we insist on living in a way that is incompatible with the natural world?
There is a way to live in harmony and balance with the natural world, such that we are not constantly under threat of disease, war and local calamity. Someday we’ll get there, either by choice or by ecological default.
As if things aren’t strange enough in Covid World these days, now we have evacuations from forest fires in the mountains to the north.
We’re not threatened with fire or evacuation here, but we are getting smoke and ash fall now and then, not enough to curtail our daily walks, but noticeable.
The fires are from a late night thunderstorm that rattled in from the ocean and stabbed the forests with thousands of lightning bolts, starting dozens of fires fed by dense undergrowth resulting from decades of fire suppression.
If it were only the forests that burned, it would be normal for this part of the world. But, of course, humans have built their homes, businesses and towns within or adjacent to the forest and thus subject to to the fires that keep the forest healthy.
I suspect, or maybe it’s just hope, that some time from now this weird year will result in changes in the way local humans spread themselves about the landscape and interact with the natural world. Maybe we’ll learn that we can’t live in high density tower blocks, packed cheek by jowl in downtown canyons of glass and concrete. Perhaps we are learning that it’s not a good idea to build flammable homes in the flammable forests.
It would be good if we humans could learn from these hard lessons of disease and fire about how to live in the natural world, without destroying it or being destroyed by it.
This article by Satish Kumar on the Schumacher College website is so well written, I can do no better than quote from it. Emphasis is my own.
“Human desire to conquer nature comes from the belief that humans are separate from nature and have superior powers. This dualistic thinking is at the root of our inability to deal with many of the natural upheavals, such as forest fires, floods and, in particular, climate change, global heating and pandemics like Covid-19. We seem to believe that one way or the other we will find technological solutions to subjugate nature and make her subservient of human dominance.
“Rather than looking at the root causes of Coronavirus, the government’s, industrialists and scientists are looking for vaccines to suppress the symptoms. Vaccines may be a temporary solution, but we need to think and act more intelligently and more wisely. Rather than treating the symptoms we need to address the causes of this crisis.
“If we were to address the causes of Coronavirus, rather than simply the symptoms, we will need to return to ecologically regenerative agriculture; to human-scale, local, low carbon and organic methods of farming.
“In order to address the causes of the Covid crisis we will need to learn to live in harmony with nature and within the laws of nature. Humans are as much a part of nature as any other form of life. Therefore, living in harmony with nature is the urgent imperative of our time and the very first lesson we, humans, collectively, need to learn from the crisis of Coronavirus.
“Through the Coronavirus crisis nature is trying to send a strong message. It is a wake-up call, a call to remind us that we cannot go on producing pollution and waste for ever thinking that there are no consequences of our activities.
“The modern human civilisation has inflicted untold suffering and damage on nature. Now we are harvesting the consequences. We must accept the consequences of our actions and change. We must move on to build a new paradigm. If we wish to restore health to people then we have to restore health to our precious planet Earth. Healing people and healing nature is one and the same thing. So, we need to do everything for healing the Earth. only the positive actions will bring positive outcomes.”
The civilization that now dominates all life on this planet is based on the perception that the human species, Homo sapiens, is separated from the Natural World and operates independently of the natural processes and limitations on all other species.
Those regarded as “uncivilized,” are considered lower than real humans, closer to animals, lacking the advantages of civilized human life.
Seems questionable taste.
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
In reality, all life is of a piece, all part of the grand Mulitiverse that surrounds and enfolds us all. All living things have virtue. All lives matter.
If there is one thing we’ve learned from modern science, it’s that at the basic level of quantum physics, which undergirds everything, there is no separation, there are no separate particles, no things distinct from one another. All things are accumulations of atoms. All atoms are accumulations of sub atomic “particles.” All subatomic particles are statistical tendencies to be in one place rather than everywhere else.
More than ‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it is indistinguishable from the rest of the Multiverse.
The separation of humans from nature is a human mental construct.
Our citizens group is very supportive of building new housing in Santa Cruz. We just expect it to be done responsibly and respectfully. We don't believe that the development project, as currently designed for 831 Water Street, is either responsible or respectful. Or even safe.